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Lily and Raven's World

An Essay on the Future of Race in America

 

            I spend a lot of time, now, on the brink of despair over the decline of our nation and our civilization. Understanding the situation feels like being a character in a Stephen King novel who sees the monster approaching and is constrained from doing anything but shouting of its presence. Few hear; fewer care; almost none are warned.

            I was lucky enough today to go to a Third-grade assembly. It reminded me of the world when I was nine--the world of 1961. Within the shine of the eyes of three dozen children, I saw a truth that had previously escaped me and a future that has, for once, given me hope. To understand the import, though, we need to go back to the 1950s.

 

          

          Unlike the majority of my readers, I was born when American had
apartheid. It was illegal for a black person to be present in my home town after dark. This was not in some dark, Southron county beside whose red-clay roads crosses burned by night. This was in the heartland of America--in the North, a scant seventy miles from downtown Chicago.

            The law was moot. There were no black people, nor brown, nor red, nor yellow in my county. There were only white--the cultural divide we had was determined by which branch of Christianity--Catholic or Protestant--and by which century their ancestors came to America. I witnessed no racial hatred. When a car driven by a black family stopped at Dick Kreiser's Standard station, their money was as good as anyone else's. Folks talked about it--like they would a sudden thunderstorm--and with as much heat. I attribute their attitude to the fact that most of the adult men had served in an Army where, despite segregation, black soldiers were present often enough to demonstrate a lack of threat. 

            There simply was not enough familiarity with race for it to generate tension in my small part of the North. 

            When, in the early Sixties, the news of the Civil Rights movement hit the Chicago Tribune, the adults around me shook their head in disbelief. My father, of course, blamed the situation in Dixie on their elected officials--just one more demonstration of the evils of voting Democratic. When the Southern Democrats like Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse Helms spent hours filibustering on the television (taking turns speaking, for days at a time) it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Didn't they understand that each person needed to be considered as an individual under the law? (Twelve year olds can be really dense sometimes when they believe what adults tell them.)

            I cheered when the Voting Rights Act passed. The underdogs won--just as they did in the Westerns that my father read. It was just the beginning, though. There was a lot of the decade left, with a war that would affect small-town life and its mirror in the inner cities--after all, it's the poor that fight America's wars. The Great Society was seen by the folks at home as a bribe to keep criminals in the cities from burning them down. Again, race was not considered, it was the actions that individuals took that elicited disgust.

            About the time I was in college, someone, somewhere, came up with the idea that the white citizens of the United States were racist--in reality, could not KEEP themselves from being racist, just from being members of a group that were in power. For a while, I bought into it--it was, after all, being promulgated by the same radicals that were helping end the slavery of the draft and the oppression of the Nixon administration (people, in short, who were my friends and colleagues). Deep inside, the farm boy rebelled at the idea--such hatred was as far beyond my experience as the stars that shone over the rock festivals we attended.

            Again and again, there was the racism refrain, which ran into a wall of dissonance with reality. For more than ten years, I struggled with the concept. Finally, I thought I had figured it out--the problem was not with the white American people. The problem was that a few, evil, white individuals who had gained power passed laws to give themselves benefits.

            I did the historical research--yep, all of the rights that black people "regained" during the 1960s (and that they had been endowed with at birth as human beings) had already been legally granted to them during the 1860s and 70s, especially in the occupied South. It had been governments, not individuals, who had found ways around those inherent rights. Once again, it was shown that God gives rights and mankind takes them away.

            Man, I thought, it's sure as hell a good thing that we've learned from our mistakes. We'll never do that again!

            Ha--I should have known better. Beginning in the late 1970s and stretching clear to the end of the century, another group of evil individuals who had gained political influence passed laws to give new benefits--to minorities this time--citing the "inherent" racism of white American citizens. We went, once again, from a situation where individuals were telling other individuals what they can and cannot do to one in which the government was telling individuals what they could and could not.

            Whether for revenge or simply the desire to see people like themselves succeed, the deck was stacked. Complaining about the unfairness of the laws was punished, especially within academia or the governmental workforce, with a severity that belied the freedom of speech and association that supposedly existed in America.

 

            Over the last generation, though, in America, something new and amazing has happened. In spite of the oppression of these new laws, individuals of both races are rising above the artificial dislike and mistrust fostered by previous governments. For the first time in a half-century, people are realizing that we are, indeed, fractal. Race is not only unimportant; the former races are blending so fast that in a generation or two, they will not be distinguishable.

            The school program today spotlighted the change in unmistakable ways.

            Lily, my foster daughter, and her best friend Raven lie at one end of a spectrum. They're beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed little girls born into this century--born in the first year of it, as a matter of fact. They're about as white as one can get. They're the minority, though. Incrementally changing, the skin of the children shades through ivory and beige, though mocha and brown with a side stop at cherry-wood, clear to the night sky of Colorado.

            The program started with America the Beautiful and then moved to classical pieces, some in English (including a Spiritual from the days of slavery), one in French, and finished with a solo by a girl in Chinese (with costumes from home and two tiny four- and five- year olds who had come over from the Chinese school to dance with their sister).

            Rather than being a way to receive time off in Purgatory, as previous school programs have been for me, the presentation was beautiful enough to bring tears to my eyes and keep them there for a half-hour.

            It's over. The election of a President with a black father and a white mother was a symptom of the change that has happened in America, not a cause of that change. Despite the continuing efforts of some in positions of power (whether it be in elected office or in media at either end of the spectrum) to keep the myth alive that we are a country made up of racist individuals, the truth shines through. If we were, indeed, racists, we could never have produced a generation of children who looked like those before me.

            The children of the 21st Century will be different from us--far different than most realize right now. They will accept their spectrum of color and racial features as natural and proper. They are the ones who will save us from the oppression of governments, in much the same way as their great-grandparents did in the Second World War. By the time they witness their virtual assembly of school children in 2060, it will be impossible to tell what race those future children are, except that they will, for just a short moment more in time, still be human.


--Tom Trumpinski
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Fluffy Thunder: A Tribute to Robert Heinlein

By Tom Trumpinski

 

           

            The door dilated and Mannie Davis half-walked, half-flew down the ramp into the Stones' cubic in the motion characteristic of a Loonie in a hurry. He was twenty minutes late and he knew better than to keep a pregnant woman tapping her foot--especially one who had knocked off Warden's guardsmen without a second thought.

            As he rounded the last corner before the living spaces, the ambush hit him. A half-dozen children--none older than eight--leapt from their hiding places in doorways and grabbed him. The largest, a lad with freckles reminiscent of a lunar sky, knocked Mannie's feet out from under him and the older man fell in slow-motion to the floor, covered with tickling, giggling brats.

            Their ringleader, not even out of her teens, emerged from the nursery doorway, hands on hips--the round bulge of her pregnancy almost dwarfing her tiny frame. She stopped to survey her prisoner. "You're late," Hazel Meade Stone said. "Great Hero of Revolution still has no watch?"

            "Lost it in game of chess."    

            "That will teach you to keep extra pawn in pocket. All right, my little soldiers, let him up, but keep eye on him--he thinks he's crafty."

            "We captured him fair and square, Mama Hazel. Forfeit!" Pippin Stone, the freckle-faced boy said. "Let's keep him down 'til he promises to pay it."

            "Right." "Yeah." "Forfeit," the other children echoed.      

            "All right, little ones--let me up and will tell story. You like stories, no?" Mannie lifted two of the children with his legs and sent them flying. They somersaulted, pushed off the corridor walls and landed back on him before he could struggle to his feet.

            "Into playroom, now, kids. Let old man have chance to catch breath." Hazel was smiling from her eyes to her chin. Mannie lifted himself with a quick push of his arms and pulled his legs beneath him while still airborne. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him firmly on the lips. "Nice to see you, Man, thanks for offering to help watch littles tonight."

            "Always pleasure--they're fast...and sneaky. Like."

            "Good kids all." She threaded her arm through his and they followed the mob of children deeper into the nursery rooms. In the nap room, pillows were spread in a circle on the floor and each of the young Stones grabbed their favorite and waited, trying to repress wiggles. Hazel released Mannie, walked over to the 'wave, and soon the smell of fresh-baked bread filled the room. She cut off a slice apiece and covered each one with flavored soy-butter. The children gobbled down their treat and licked their fingers twice for good measure. The two adults took a bit longer, savoring the taste. Mannie aligned his chair to face the roomful of children and cleared his throat. Hazel handed him a bulb of water; he drank a squirt and began....

            "Think this is before any of you were born--maybe not you, Pippin--for sure all others. Was working for Warden, of course, fixing computers. When not working there, doing chores on Davis farm. Like everyone else, then, grew wheat to ship to Earth.

            Seventy-four was bad year. Our farm had it better than most, since had own water mine--didn't have to pay for air or water, recycled waste--solar collectors above made hydrogen and oxygen. Earth kept prices low, so had to pinch pennies 'til they screamed despite advantages.

            Was repairing valve one day when senior husband, Greg, came up, palm out.

            "Look at these, Mannie," he said.

            "What? Burned wheat grains?" Took two from him, smashed down one with finger, and popped other in mouth to taste.

            "No," he said, "I looked them up. Rat droppings."

            Spit out dropping fast and sputtered for several minutes before getting water to wash taste from mouth. "Rats? No rats on Moon. No way, no how."

            "Follow me," he said, and we marched down tunnels to greenhouse level. Greg pointed to newly unpacked container. In corner was nest of insulation and fur. "Shippers left enough air in the crates for the animals to make it here. No way to tell how many. I have found droppings all over this level. Even worse, they're in our walls, too."      

            This very bad. Rats take what they can find to build nests. If they eat wires, cause shorts in critical systems. Needed solution, fast.

            So, next dinner time, asked for volunteers. Lots of Davis children to do rat-catching sweeps. Gave treats for largest daily kill. Even though littles worked hard, rats tough survivors. Can have new batch babies every three, four weeks, even if suckling last litter.

            Tried for two months. End of time, still had rats and children needed for harvest. By time harvest over, more rats than to begin with. Was going to cost money.

            In Bad Old Days, no pictures on 'Net. Bandwidth to Moon monitored by Warden--goods not from company store taxed heavily. Mum Mimi called up Sears & Roebuck catalog on screen and looked in Bio-ware section. Found "Self-Replicating Pest Control Devices" listed.

            "What're those?" I said.

            "Dunno," she replied. "No picture, description vague, it's guaranteed to destroy a thousand times its weight in rats during usable lifetime and dirt cheap. Even so, Mannie, it's a pig in a poke."

            "It's Sears. Have guarantee. Just got money from catapult-head for wheat. Devices sold in fifty-kilo units. Can afford twenty? Could set up around perimeter of fields--put bait to lure rats to them."

            "In my experience, darling boy," she said, "if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Let me calculate payoff time." She fiddled with electronic ledger, adding figure here, taking one away there. "Hmmm. Looks like one year break-even without considering the cost or danger of the little stinkers knocking out a critical system. Purchase approved."

            Took one month for shipment to arrive at port. Clerks waiting in room off main corridor to charge family money for import duties.  In those days, Warden took share of anything going in or out of Loonie-space. Paid duty, grumbled. Clerks cared as much as usual. Walked to rented storage unit with Seamus and Micah, hired hands.

            Two sealed containers--marked "Sears and Roebuck, Chicago, Earth" and "Fragile, Cryogenic Unit"--sat in small room with big door. They were much, much larger than expected--too big to fit on corridor-tractor we had brought. Was figuring on nanotech, not bulk items.

            Micah examined controls. "Can we open these, boss?"

            "Should inspect. Off-switch here. Will have to unpack anyway, too big to move like this." Pressed Off-switch, container split down middle and sides folded down. Backed up, since opened crate took up half space in room. Was facing other way, watching entry door for snoops when it finished unfolding and hired men gasped.

            Turned to look and gasped, also. There, lying within, lay row upon row of identical, cloned, frozen, five-kilo grey cats.

            "They're cats, boss," Micah said.

            "Yep, looks like cats, all right," Seamus added. "All female, too."

            Asked them, "Can we close container again?" Needed to think deep. Cats would eat rats, but needed other food and water...and air. Had vision of break-even date moving further and further into future. Mimi would bounce off ceiling like rocket fired indoors. Sears only replaced broken or missing equipment, not items working as described. "How much liquid nitrogen left in container tanks?"

            "Seventy hours, more or less."

            Opened other container. That one filled with one hundred shorthaired, striped, orange tomcats sleeping soundly at 72 K. Two hundred cats total. Containers won't fit on tractor. Cats wake up--will have to pay air tax for entire lot. Closed containers again. Head hurt, bad. Locked storage unit, gave clerks cash for four more days rental.

            "So, let me get this straight, Mannie," Mimi was demonstrating ability to act angry and suppress laughter at same time, "Davis Farms now owns two hundred shorthaired cats--Self-Replicating Pest Control Devices." She choked once trying to keep straight face. "They are five kilometers from the farm, frozen, and we have no equipment to haul their containers here. As soon as they wake up, we owe air tax as long as they're not in our cubic."

            "So, need to minimize time outside our space."

            "Our first problem, then, is getting them here--awake or not. Can we rent a larger hauler? Maybe move them over the surface and bring them in through our overhead lock?"

            "Nyet. No hauler large enough to move containers--won't fit through smaller corridors on way here. Overhead lock too small to bring containers through. Can't open outside--vacuum kills even frozen cats."

            Mimi started chuckling. "My darling Manuel, you know those Western discs of mine we used to watch when we were first married?"

            "When not too tired, dear." Kissed wife nicely, remembering honeymoon. "Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Mal Reynolds, wild Indians, buffalo--remember well. Land looked like Moon except blue sky. Why?"

            "Ranchers had problem like ours--had animals at end of railhead, but no fueled transport except what would roll on tracks. They solved their problem by driving the stock to where they needed to go." Mimi looked serious again.

            "Cattle drive?"

            "More like 'kittle' drive in our case."

            "Chief Alvarez would go ballistic. Are two hundred of them! Cats will go everywhere--fur in air filters, beasts running into open shops. You're talking about five kilometers of corridor--one of them through heart of Luna City."

            "Sweet Mannie, when have we ever seen the need to tell the Chief anything? We brush cats first, while defrosting--collect their fur and put it in a bag. We can do the drive between 0200 and 0500 when all the shops are closed--nobody in the corridors then except for drunks and cops. We use whole family plus hands to herd the cats--find some way to make distraction to keep cops busy across town."

            "All we have to do is keep cats moving in right direction, no?" Had some doubts about plan.

            "Sure, how hard could it possibly be to get cats to move? Just point them in one direction and urge them on--they're just like any other herd animal, right?"

            Unpacked cats day early. Both hired hands and five children with curry-brushes used for dwarf calves went ahead to storage unit. Three hours later, arrived with Greg to supervise help, feed and water herd. 

            Entered door. Room so noisy cannot hear oneself think. Cats sitting, lying, standing everywhere--atop containers, on twelve-centimeter shelves halfway up bulkheads, in corners, underfoot. Loose fur drifting up toward ceiling circulation intake. One bag completely full of loose fur, second one halfway filled.

            Micah yanked at orange tomcat attached to his shirt. Remained attached by its feet. Made mental note--cats' feet sharp. "Boss, we've lost track of the ones we've brushed."

            "They all alike?"

            "Each batch of ten seems to be the clone of one specific parent. Can't tell one of those from the rest at all. Within each sex, colors are similar enough between batches that when they get mixed up, may as well give up trying to separate them."

            "You thawed them all at once? No way to defrost few at one time?"

            "One switch, boss," Seamus said. "We hit it, started working on brushing the cats and the next thing we know, they're all awake and yowling."

            "They're probably hungry," Greg said. He walked back to tractor in corridor and returned with sack of protein over one shoulder and water jerrycan and bowls in other hand. Cats got very quiet all of sudden. Started sniffing air. Two or three dozen fell into crouch so low bellies almost touched floor and lifted rear ends--waving tails back and forth.

            "What are they doing?" Greg asked. "Is that some sort of threat display? Ahhhh!" Husband's words cut off as cats flew across room, landing atop sack of food, tearing at it. 

            Luna reduces weight, not mass, of course. One hundred fifty kilos of felines flying at kilometer per minute pack punch like prizefighter. Greg fell backwards, landing with no harm but to dignity, thank Bog, becoming invisible under carpet of furry creatures having first meal in some time. Rest of grownups moved out of line of fire of next wave of incoming cats while making wager on whether Preacher Greg knew cuss words.

            Lost wager. Learned some previously unknown to me.

            Once cats fed and watered, entire herd fell asleep except for few who were mating or fighting--hard to tell which without further study. Yowls made head hurt again. Eight of us stepped lightly over curled balls of fluff and met at closed containers. Leaned on container, then jumped when sleepy queen laid paws over shoulder and made rumbling noise in ear, nibbling gently.

            "Tickles!" All five children giggled at me. Three of them stroking cats held in arms--another one had fur collar, last had orange tom draped over shoulder, striped head staring in my direction.

            "They're soft," the eldest said. 

            "Yeah," the collared one added.

            "That's purring they're doing--I looked it up. They make a noise with their throat when they're happy." Elise looked like old video of Mimi pre-transport.

            "So, honey," I said to her, "did article say anything about how to herd them?"

            "No, Poppa Mannie, nothing at all. Why don't you shout and wave your arms? That works for cows, after all."

            Walked to end of storage room. Yelled, "Giddyap!" and "Wahoo!" and "Move Out!" Four nearby cats opened eyes, stood up, stretched, lay back down. Rest of cats continued sleeping. Hopped up and down and waved arms to scare cats into action. Cats remained asleep. Motioned for hired men and children to do same. Two cats woke up, walked over to water dish, lapped expensive liquid until satisfied. Other one hundred and ninety-eight remained asleep.

            Said to group, "May have to rethink this idea."

            Returned to Davis farm, nineteen hours left of storage rental time. Sent Mimi and Greg off to carry out other portions of plan while giving thought to motivating herd. Remembered yowling of cats and annoyance from such. Turnabout fair play, no?

            Large Heathkit box on shelf in room. Brought it down, savoring smell of resistors and capacitors tipped with solder. All parts needed already there--built oscillator circuit, added speakers, attached dial to adjust frequency. Doubled human hearing range in both directions, in case needed. Slipped everything into box with belt strap, clipped to tool belt, headed back to rental unit on tractor.

            Slipped inside quietly, turned on lights. Most cats asleep, few fighting or mating, several came forward purring, looking for food and attention. Turned on speaker-box. As usual, cats continued sleeping. Gradually raised frequency to higher pitch. More and more cats woke up, staring in direction of speaker. Pitch approached edge of hearing. Cats all awake now. Turned dial little further--fur stands up on backs of cats. Small adjustment and entire herd stands and runs to back to storage space. Some climb to shelf on wall. Design which works--amazing. Returned home, slept ten hours.

            At 0130, Micah and Seamus returned with me to rental unit. Hauled cryogenic containers to clerks' office--sold back to Authority. Shoveled manure into bags for recycling. 0145, called Mimi and Greg to confirm others in place. Operation Trail Drive now "Go."

            Across Luna City, at the Vacuum Head Tavern--favorite hangout of tunnel rats from first and second shifts--Big Mike Bogdanovich, foreman of first shift, takes swing at Ivan "Crazy Legs" Chang, foreman of second, at precisely 0147. Since miners love brawls more than anything besides drinking, rest of patrons join in melee. Owner calls Alvarez's Guards and Finks at 0149. By 0155, every law official in Luna City heading orthogonally from Port and Davis Farm to break up riot. At 0156, Mimi adding cost of gift to Miners' Union Hall to balance sheet of electronic ledger. Exactly 0200, open sliding door to rental until and cats run away from speaker-unit on belt fast as possible.

            Herd thunders down corridor, mewling and howling. Front line of cats half-jump, half-fly, up and down ramps. Adventurous toms hug walls, looking for creative escape routes. Three hundred meters down, reach first cross-corridor. Most of herd continues forward, some toms rush to side, leading those behind them in that direction. Met by Agosti Azariah Alvarez and Spirit of Bilbao jai alai team.

            Team fastest on Luna. Use scoops on sticks to toss straying leaders back to center of herd. Cats land on feet, run forward. Team jumps on 'cycles, races ahead to next corridor using side tunnels, meets cats there. Back home, Mimi writing check to fix plumbing in Spirit of Bilbao's Clubhouse.

            One hour later, dial open door to Davis cubic. Herd runs inside, spreads out into farming tunnels. Everyone stares at floating fur in corridor, shake hands, pat on back, and go home.

            Placed feeding stations at strategic areas around cubic. Next rat seen only half-rat--brought to edge of growing area and offered as tribute to Davis Family. Cats became popular quickly--smart, self-reliant, dexterous, clean, just like human Loonies. Soon learn interior doors dilate for more than five cats clawing at door. Had to put interlock on critical areas. Tribes of cats settle own areas with neutral space in-between. Peace reigns, waste recycled, purring heard in bedrooms during sleep cycles.

            Exactly 87 days later, was standing next to wheat when tiny, mottled ball of fur flew out of hiding and landed on shoulder, biting ear. Looking down, saw three more pairs of blue eyes staring back between sheaves. Over next week, reports of kittens from all over farm. Females apparently fertile--called Family meeting.

           

            "Mannie, darling, the advertisement said 'Self-replicating'--of course they're fertile," Mimi said over suppertime meal. Three tortoiseshell kittens played in her lap, rolling and nibbling each other. Largest put feet on table, looking over plates of food. Mum brushed her back down without glance. "There's still some areas to which we can extent their hunting grounds. Food for them is not a problem as long as there are pests to kill."

            "It's their fecundity that is liable to be the problem. If they have more than one batch per year, we'll soon be overrun with them." Greg petted orange-striped kitten sitting on shoulder, offering bit of protein to it from spoon. "You were going to do some research on their mating habits, weren't you?"

            Did not have cat on lap. Problem too serious. Was frightened by numbers. "Bought one hundred females. Each female capable of producing three to five kittens three times each year. Let's say 90% breeding efficiency and 75% of kittens grow to adulthood. This time next year, have one thousand cats, not two hundred. Takes only year for female kittens to become fertile themselves. End of ten years, each female has produced 150 kittens. By that time, nine factoral times 400 cats fill Davis cubic to ceiling."

            "Kittens? Did someone say kittens?" Grandpaw Davis woke up from usual doze at end of table. White kitten with gray spots lay over his bald head, washing remaining strands of hair. "We had kittens in the barn when I was a young'un. When we had too many of them, it warn't no problem--we just put 'em in a sack and dropped 'em in the creek."

            "Ewwwwwww." Everyone at table flinched at same time, thinking about cute kittens sucked into vacuum.

            "No, we can't do that, Husband-mine. We'll figure out some way to solve the problem that doesn't involve mayhem." Mimi looked thoughtful. "Mannie, Greg, have the children go out collecting the cutest ones they can find...."

            Next day handbills appeared all over Luna City with photo of big-eyed kitten with "HAVE YOU SEEN ME?" written underneath. Sentimental Loonies' heads exploded with cuteness. Week later, even cuter ones adorned bulletin boards saying, "AVAILABLE IN ONLY THREE WEEKS."

            By time kittens were old enough to wean, long line of buyers stretched clear back to downtown. Vet who doctored Davis cows and pigs offered to sterilize 90% of our females and all kittens in exchange for three pairs of her own. Neutering insured steady stream of new kittens without being so many that they exceeded farm's budget.

            In six months, cats new symbol of social status. Warden had matched pair of tomcats sleeping on bed between girls. Knew things had changed forever when gray queen was knocking peanuts off bar at favorite tavern and drinking beer out of customers' glasses. Life went on, made more pleasant by Luna's newest residents.

            And that, children, is how cats came to live on Luna and Family opened Davis Farms' Pet Emporium and Supply. You know their motto, right? Repeat after me:

            THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS FREE...."

            "KITTENS!!!" the children all yelled together.

           

            As the littles lay curled up in the crèche sleeping, each with a purring cat of their own, Hazel walked Manuel back to the main corridor. "Thanks so much for coming over and visiting the children. They adore you, you know."

            "Love them, Haze. They're hope of future, now that Luna's free. Important lesson, too, in story--how to solve problems and turn profit. You could do worse than to pay attention to this yourself."

            "Will keep this in mind, Mannie--but really, now. Why would I ever need to know how to sell off hundreds of little furry creatures? Not exactly survival skill, is it?"


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Just a quick note to remind everyone that kittencon is this coming weekend, April 9-11, 2010.  Tom Smith will be playing Saturday night.

Here's the webpage.

TC
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A Simultaneous Solution to the Strong Anthropic Principle

And the Fermi Paradox 
 

Thomas Trumpinski (work in progress) 
 

Both modern Cosmology and Philosophy have been puzzling for the last half-decade over two observational facts—that even a small deviation from the present values of the Universal Constants would make it impossible for intelligent life to exist in the observable universe.  As a matter of fact, even a tiny deviation in some of the constants would result in there not being stars, let alone life.   
 

At the same time, every observational method used, whether it is the search for extra-Terrestrial artifacts, SETI, or the collection of cometary dust, has come up with a null result for intelligent life within an ever-increasing radius of Sol. 
 

The fine-tuning of physical constants is so precise that there is the opposite situation to those who posit Intelligent Design—life is so likely to occur that it should be everywhere in the Milky Way outside of the high-energy center.  Observations of stars within hundreds of light years show that solar systems have planets as a rule, rather than as an exception.  Space probes in our own system show that three worlds (Mars, Enceladus, and Europa) besides Earth could have life at present and one (Titan) will have temperatures and chemistry that would promote life as the Sun turns into a Red Giant. 
 

Fermi calculated that using Von Neumann machines operating at slower-than-light speeds, it would take an intelligent race less than one hundred million years to settle every habitable planet within a galaxy.  No calculation since then has reduced that number. So, sixty years later, we again ask the question, “Where are the aliens?” 
 

The fine tuning is very unlikely.  The absence of visible life is even more unlikely. The odds of them both occurring in a universe are vanishingly small, yet we are constrained by the Copernican Principle to be living in a universe that has a probability in the “damn likely” range.  How can all of these things be reconciled in an observationally testable manner? 
 

What follows is a hypothesis in the form of a gedanken-experiment.  I make no claim of originality, although to my knowledge, no one has yet applied this to the Fermi Paradox.  Vox Day has been talking about the MMO aspects of the universe for a couple of years.  The uber-computer and one way of powering it was first described by Dr. Frank Tipler in The Physics of Immortality back in 1995.  The Easter Egg concept was mentioned at the end of Carl Sagan’s Contact, which was published in 1985. 
 

Let us assume a group of game designers outside of our light cone yet within the larger universe.  (The current Big Bang Theory incorporates a period of inflation which would make the totality of the Universe much larger than what is within our light cone, so there is enough space for such designers to live in, as well as enough potential energy to power their machine.)  We also assume that these designers are in possession of an uber-computer that has the capability of registering and manipulating the bits of information within what we observe as our light cone.  There is coarseness, though, within that computer which is the equivalent of pixel-size on our display monitors.  We observe that as the quantum-level phenomena where what smoothly-flowing function suddenly becomes a quantized step-function.  Such coarseness reduces the amount of computing power needed at small levels by several orders of magnitude. 
 

These designers are experimenting with simulations of intelligent living things and have created a software universe fine-tuned to maximize the potential of the life that they will be creating.  To prevent the interference of one type of life with another, they have limited the starting positions of their created life-forms to a small number per galaxy or galaxy group.  This will enable the life-forms to expand virtually indefinitely once they leave their point of origin. 
 

There are several models that they could use for their simulation.  One would be the Spore-type, where different modes of physicality could be made and examined to answer questions like “How do physical means of reproduction affect the likelihood of survival?”  A second would be the 4C model, as in Civilization IV, where life-forms with minor differences begin in isolation and then find other, competing groups once they have a chance at surviving the contact. 
 

The  model that interests me the most, however, is the MMO model, because it fits with the traditions and philosophies of the human race as well as answers the “big questions” that humanity has been asking itself since it became sentient:  “Why is there evil in the world?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  What happens when we die?” 
 

Massively Multiplayer Online games have been played over the Internet since Ultima Online debuted in 1997.  They differ in detail, but all have one methodology:  The players explore their universe and experience events that the designers have included within the framework of the game.  By doing certain, predetermined things, they gain experience points (XP) that, when they have gathered enough, enable them to “level-up”, gaining new powers and abilities that they can then use in harder areas of the game universe. 
 

If our observable universe is an MMO, with mortals as players, the answers to the large philosophic questions are immediately apparent.  “Why is there evil in the world?”  To give players something to strive against that will gain them XP.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It doesn’t matter whether they’re good or not—everyone has established, random challenges, each challenge worth a pre-determined number of points.  “What happens when we die?”  If you’ve gained enough XP to level up, you gain new powers and abilities and start over in a new instance with greater challenges that are worthy of you.  If you haven’t, your character is deleted and a new one created.  This model even explains Great Evil—Hitler and Stalin, for example, would be “Raid Bosses” that take a huge number of players to co-operate in order to bring down. 
 

This model also answers the theoretical problem of “free will” in the same way that it is done in-game.  A player is free to explore every area, fight evil or not, even to just spend the entire time crafting items and exchanging them for gold.  Only doing certain things, though, determined by the game designers, would serve to give characters the XP to reach the next level.  Within the interior of the game, such things might seem nonsensical, even trivial, but these things would be as well-determined as the laws of gravity and the fine-structure constant.  The XP-quests would reflect the entire reason for the existence of the simulation in the first place—answering the questions for which the game was designed. 
 

Unlike many of humanity’s MMOs, though, there have been no formal rulebooks discovered.  All that exist are the Players’ Handbooks written by experienced players and handed down from generation to generation.  Some may have been enhanced by a /tell from a designer or two to a particularly friendly and co-operative player, most probably not.  Of all of the ones developed since writing was invented, there are only a dozen or so left and some of the information may be as wrong as what’s in DDO’s forums—it’s mostly intuitive player-input, after all. 
 

Any scientific hypothesis has to fulfill two requirements—it must explain all of the observed phenomena and it has to be disprovable.   
 

This model explains the coarseness of quantum phenomena, the Fermi Paradox, the Strong Anthropic Principle, Free Will, and the Big Philosophical Questions of Humanity.  (Suggestions would be welcomed for example of observed phenomena which would not be explained by this hypothesis.) 
 

It would be immediately disprovable by the discovery of intelligent life close enough to interact with humanity.  It would also be disprovable by proof of continued existence after death of an individual’s consciousness within our local area.  (Again, other methods of disproof would be welcomed.) 
 

To conclude, here’s a suggested observational method for compiling proof of the hypothesis.  Human game designers love to include in their universes Easter Eggs—little jokes, tricks, and special items that only the determined or curious would find.  It is likely, in my opinion, that the game designers are similar enough to us in nature to make such Eggs findable.  The best places to look would be in the realms of the very large (chains of galaxies forming sentences in English, for example), the very small (the folding patterns of proteins making the shape of the animals that they’re taken from) or pure mathematics (the two-millionth to three-millionth decimal place of pi in base-12 being all zeros and ones and, when placed in a 1000x1000 grid, creating a picture of Alfred E. Newman.) 
 

Any of the above Easter Eggs would go a long way toward proving the existence of the game designers and give important clues to the nature of the simulation that we are within. 
 


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It's time for Kittencon and you're all invited!!!

I wanted to make sure that everyone on LJ knows about the party (even if it is on short notice).  It will be lower-key than last year, but still promises to be a rollicking good time.  Please come.

Best always

TC

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I wanted to let you know that because of the sudden changes with Live Journal, I've decided to start a new blogspot site called Seed Crystals.  It will tell of my emotional and spiritual journey being a writer as well as stories of my day-to-day life and how it intersects with my chosen career.  There should be a lot about actual mechanics as well as experiences during my travels this year promoting the book and trying different paradigms with the web site.  I'm going to try to go to John Scalzi's writers' workshop this fall in Martha's Vinyard, too, and will describe that.  I hope for semi-daily updates, life allowing.

Please bookmark it and let people know that it's there, ok?

Thanks,

TC

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I am going absolutely crazy.  I use Word '07 (please save the catcalls and advice on free programs for later, I need to do this NOW).

I'm trying to put a story in .rtf format with straight quote marks rather than curved ones--same goes for apostrophes, etc.

I cannot, for the life of me, find a way to do this.  I looked at the formatting guide that Strange Horizons put up, but I cannot figure out how to turn off "smart quotes" or whatever it is that keeps preventing me from flattening the quotes out.

I put it into plain ASCII into a .txt file and then put it back in Word and Voila...curvy quotes.

Please help a poor man get into John Scalzi's writers' workshop, please?

Thanks,

TC
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New Year’s Message from

Tom Trumpinski and everyone at Trumpinski Books

 

Dear Fans and Friends:

 

Looking back, 2008 was a great year. Since my first book, Riding the Hell-Bound Train, premiered at Worldcon in Denver, I’ve been on a roller-coaster ride of appearances. It’s been great fun to travel, meet all of you, do readings and signings, and participate in lots of panels at SF Conventions.

 

The coming year looks even better. We have spent most of this week here at the Borgamy talking about new paradigms in publishing and presentation on the Internet and will be implementing some exciting projects and changes for the website starting in the next couple weeks.

 

First of all, we’re going to put up a story every month for you to read. Some will be ones that were already published in the book; others will be new, exclusive, and set in the Iona universe. I understand that the economy is troubled right now—everyone’s feeling the pinch, and lots of people in the fannish community are out of work. Therefore, we’re not going to charge you one cent to read these stories. Instead, we’re going to have a tip jar attached—after you finish the story, if you like it and want to keep us in business, send us what you can afford using PayPal. Over the next six months, you’ll get the background information for what we’re planning for late 2009:

 

An Iona Novel

 

So far, I’ve got three chapters done on a novel featuring Margee and Jerry, Molly, Doctor Mike Stevens, a host of fairies, and some great new characters. As the year progresses, we’ll be putting up short character biographies and Allie’s very excited about doing some sketches of the Dramatis Personae. I’m not sure how we’re going to market the novel—whether to try to sell it to a larger publisher or talk to John and go the small press route using Peregrination Press again. If, and this is a big if, the contributions on the short stories are large enough, we may just serialize it on the website for donations and then self-publish hardcopies using lulu.

 

Next item—we are revamping the entire website purchasing procedure for buying Hell-Bound Train in order to make it as simple and painless as possible. We’ve been told that it’s just too damn hard, so we’re going to fix that. In addition, henceforth, we will eat the sales tax for Illinois residents and pay the shipping charges for everyone, no matter where you live. Hell, I’ll even sign every copy we sell, personally—all for a total price of $24.50. If you still don’t want to buy a copy over the ‘Net, show up at one of my appearances this year—I guarantee you that I’ll have some with me and we can work out a deal.

 

Finally, and this is still in the very early planning stages, we intend to introduce greater interactivity to our website. Within the next few months, we’ll be putting up a forum and message boards where readers can ask questions, make suggestions, bitch, cheer, swoon, or just hang out. I plan to spend a lot of time on the boards—this promises to be great fun.

 

So, that’s the news. We’re excited about all the changes. Stay tuned, it’s going to be a great year.

 

The Staff of Trumpinski Books —

 

Tom Trumpinski

Allison Mazan

Marcey Goldstein

Kitten Trumpinski-Roberts

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The furnace kicked on and the warm air blew over her—striking her at the line where her tabby fur and orange stripes blended into the brown and gold of her tortoiseshell markings. Mitzi yawned and opened one eye to check the dining room. If she was going to wake up, it would be for a reason worthy of her attention.

Not a creature was stirring. The streetlights shone on the wall and when she opened her other eye, her pupils widened from slits to ovals. Rising to her feet, she stretched to her full length and stopped to wash a patch of itchy fur. Time to do rounds, she thought, something might not accept her ownership.

She padded into the kitchen, found a morsel of dropped food under the edge of the kitchen island and tossed it into her mouth. Mmmm. Chicken skin. There was dry food and water near the sliding stairway door to where Soft Bed slept every night. Mitzi ate enough to satisfy her tummy and walked into the hallway.

The usual line of upstairs cats slept on the floor—it was always warm there for some reason. She was no scientist, but she was aware of her world and took advantage of its natural phenomena every chance she could. Old Girl and Meat Loaf lay on one side of the hall and Stripe-Tom on the other. From behind the door of the bedroom, Shoulder-Girl and Poppa snored, the latter shaking the door when he inhaled. All was as it should be for an early morning.

The living room was different than usual and had been for days now. She, like most of her kind, hated change with a passion—all her walking and jumping routes were altered and anything out of her control bothered her. The new tall object, many cat-lengths high, was covered with shiny things. More change—ewwww—now there were boxes under the tall thing. They weren’t there when she fell asleep. Should she be afraid? Should she run forward and attack? None of the boxes moved.

She launched herself onto the couch, hit a cushion and rebounded onto the arm of the chair. From there, it was simple to walk across the side of the wall, moving from window-sill to window-sill. She paused alongside the tall thing to bat at a round ball with a cat inside of it that moved when she did. The inside cat hit back at her each time she made a move. She hit the ball hard and it came loose and bounced against the wall, dropping into the pile of boxes below her. That’d show the stupid tiny cat!

When she got to the end of the windows, she leapt to the speakers, to the box with pictures (black at the moment), and then to the floor, arriving right next to an unsuspecting box. She put her paw forward, poking it against a ribbon. The box did nothing. Was it asleep or dead? Dead things were sometimes edible like the food in the kitchen, nice to sleep on like the furniture, or fun to play with.  The box was none of those, so she dismissed it. It was time to go back to her warm spot and sleep.

There was a smell here, though—one that taunted her when she tried to ignore it. She drew in a deep breath. By Tuna, it smelled better than anything she’d ever smelled before. Where was it coming from? 

Mitzi stepped up, climbing even higher onto the pile of boxes. There was a gap between them and she slipped her head into it. Aha! At the bottom of the pile was a box with the yummy smell all over it. She pushed the top box over and it slid down the pile. The white tip of her tail lashed as she pulled at others with her front paws.

She didn’t see the black streak as Demon Black Fluff, her feline nemesis, flew from her hiding place near the wall. Fluff landed on her, biting at Mitzi’s fur and pulling at it with her teeth. Mitzi let out a howl of anger, pulled away from her attacker, and somersaulted into a clear area. Both of the cats arched their backs, sang their warning songs, and snarled. It was a standoff. The Demon was willing to maim with her teeth, but lacked the front claws that made Mitzi so proud. Mitzi didn’t fight with other cats except to play, so she lacked the aggression of her opponent. They sang louder, filling the living room with noise.

BANG. The bedroom door opened and then slammed shut. Poppa’s footsteps came down the hallway and into the living room. He made some not-cat noises and picked the Demon up in his arms, carrying her away into the kitchen. Mitzi heard the sliding door and knew she didn’t have to worry for a while. Having a peaceful reputation was useful, if nothing else.

Once Poppa had returned to bed, she resumed her project—the buried box. It smelled wonderful for a dead thing. She pushed boxes off of it until its entire top was visible. It wasn’t square like the other ones and it was soft and rolled into a cylinder. There was a ribbon around the center with a piece of paper attached. She chewed the paper in two bites, spitting it out when she realized it had no taste.

Mitzi looked around carefully. Sometimes she was punished for using her claws on dead things. No one was visible in the living room—not even White Old Lady, who often slept by the corner register to ease her arthritis. Safe. She tore the paper wrapping on the box into tiny bits within seconds. They flew around her, landing a full cat-length away in some cases. Inside was not a box at all, but a clear bag with something inside—something that smelled like heaven.

The plastic didn’t last any longer than the paper had. Her claws shredded the bag and the plant bits inside fell out. They smelled even stronger than before. Her eyes watered, her whiskers twitched, and her tail stuck out so straight she almost pulled a muscle. Joy! The room swirled—even things that were dull a moment before were mesmerizing. This is what the other cats must mean by “catnip”, she thought. She couldn’t imagine anything else that would do this to her.

The silver tinsel on the tree called to her, teasing. There were many more balls hanging on the tree than she had seen before and each one of them had an inside cat that looked just like her. She would have reacted to their challenge, but her back legs weren’t working right and she fell over on her side in the shredded paper.  For some reason, this was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. Moving quickly just resulted in her writhing on the wrapping paper.

When she got onto her feet again, the ribbons on the other packages were moving. Snakes! She crouched and waved her tail in the air, ready to kill. These ribbon-snakes, like all snakes, were a natural enemy. Her pounce took her over the pile of boxes onto a larger one with a deadly-looking ribbon. Her teeth were like blades, ripping the ribbon into bite-sized pieces that she swallowed. Ugh! Nasty thing.

Now, the wall of boxes moved, taunting her. She leapt onto it, striking out with her front claws against the top one and then falling down into the center. She grabbed a small box with her front paws and raked it with her back claws. Again and again she struck, first against the boxes—then moving fast against the tinsel and ball-cats. When she finished, exhausted, she had killed everything infesting the tall thing.  The bodies of the offenders were at her feet. She lay, nose in the heavenly-smelling plant bits, and fell into a near-coma.

 

Tall-Chair came through the back door of the house and was most of the way through the dining room before he saw the carnage beneath the Christmas tree. Presents were unwrapped, boxes had their tops torn off, and ornaments lay in pieces around the base. Lying beneath the tree, holding the bag of organically-grown farm catnip up to her face, was Mitzi, unconscious, with a long strand of tinsel wrapped around her back legs.

He was laughing while he walked through the kitchen on his way to the back steps, dodging other cats along the way—they’d need everyone to get this cleaned up before company came over. “Hey,” he called out the back door to Table-Feeder—who was busy walking Barker—“next time we’ll have to double-bag the kitties’ present.”



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 Time to ramp up for the trip to Worldcon.  I wanted to let everyone know when I'm arriving and leaving and where I'll be at to increase the liklihood of us hooking up while we're there.  I'll include here the listings from the pocket program about the panels, etc.

Arrival:  No later than 3pm on Wednesday.  We're staying at the Grand Hyatt Denver.

2:30pm Thursday

177 Rising Stars Reception

Sheraton - 2nd Level, Grand Ballroom

Join Hosts Gay and Joe Haldeman as we welcome our newest writers to Denvention 3. Stop in and chat with these aspiring writers, recruit them for panels at your convention, get some autographs, find out whose book just came out or will be published in the near future!

Ann Marie Rudolph


5:30pm Thursday

235 Reading: Tom Trumpinski

 
Hyatt - Agate A


I'll be doing pieces from
Riding the Hell-bound Train and perhaps some other works.


8:30pm Thursday

 252 Heinlein and marriage

Sheraton - 2nd Level, Tower Court C

Robert Heinlein explored a variety of marriage forms in his writing, and portrayed happy marriages between couples, triples, groups, and lines. Were these drawn only from the writer's imagination, and what experiences have others had in turning fiction to reality?

David Silver, Deb Houdek-Rule, Eric James Stone, Geo Rule, Tom Trumpinski


Friday, 2:30pm

CCC - Room 506

345 Making the People We Want: Genetic Engineering 

The benefits, costs, and unanticipated consequences of genetic engineering in human beings. Would there be fashions? At what point do they stop being human?

Amy Sterling Casil, (m) John Moore, Mary Rosenblum, Nancy Kress, Tom Trumpinski

 1:00pm Sunday

656 Heinlein - The Hugo Years

 CCC - Room 503

During the decade between 1956 and 1967, Heinlein won four Hugo awards for best novel. This pinnacle came in the middle of his career. Some people say this is his best work while others prefer his earlier or later work.

Bill Patterson, Bradford Lyau, (m) Robert Buettner, Tom Trumpinski, Toni Weisskopf


Note the big gap enabling us to party all Friday and Saturday nights.  I intend to make the most of that.

We'll be staying through Sunday night and leaving about 6:30 or so Monday morning for Socorro.

I'm very excited and looking forward to seeing all the folks we know there.

Tom Trumpinski

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Current Mood: happy happy

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